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‘The way forward for Cork football is to make the school the central hub,’ insists former Cork manager Brian Cuthbert

June 20th, 2024 8:00 AM

By Kieran McCarthy

‘The way forward for Cork football is to make the school the central hub,’ insists former Cork manager Brian Cuthbert Image
Former Cork senior football manager Brian Cuthbert.

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BRIAN Cuthbert is adamant that change is needed to make Cork football competitive on a regular basis. It’s a situation that needs creativity and innovation, the former Cork senior football manager insists. Something needs to change – and schools could have a central role to play. 

First, the context. It’s been slim pickings at inter-county level in the past decade, with the All-Ireland minor and U20 successes in 2019 the outliers. 

Cork’s last Munster senior football title was won in 2012, with eight final defeats since. Two Munster U20 (previously U21) have been won in the last eight seasons. The Rebels have won just two Munster MFC titles in the last 14 years, and the back-to-back drubbings against Kerry and Mayo, by a combined 32 points, has to be a worry.

The Rebels suffered a whitewash against Kerry this season, with the Kingdom winning all five championship meetings between senior, U20 (2) and minor (2) grades.

There’s an irony that we’re in the final year of, at the time, Cork’s much-lauded five-year plan (#2024 – A Five-Year Plan for Cork Football) to make the county a football force again, yet the final destination doesn’t seem any closer. 

‘If we continue to do the same things we’ll end up getting the same results,’ Cuthbert tells The Southern Star

‘Someone is going to have to dare to be different if Cork football wants to really look at the barriers that are in our way and then challenge those barriers with nuanced approaches to development. 

‘It takes creativity and a bit of innovation to say this just isn't about club coaching, this just isn't about development squads, this is about synergy and coordination across the board between all stakeholders.’

Cuthbert feels the schools’ role in Cork is one approach that needs to be looked at. The former Cork footballer and manager is principal of Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh Bishopstown in Cork city so he’s in a better position than most to comment. Look at the Corn Uí Mhuiri roll of honour – Cork’s last triumph in the blue riband Munster colleges’ U19A football competition was in 2011 (Coláiste Chriost Rí). Kerry schools have won every final since then. Slim pickings again for Cork schools. 

Cuthbert resists the temptation to compare the schools’ set-up in Kerry to here in Cork. It’s not a copy-and-paste solution either. Look at the geographical structure across the county bounds where there are established football schools in various regions – St Brendan’s College in East Kerry, Tralee CBS and Mercy Mounthawk in Tralee, and Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne in West Kerry. The landscape in Cork is different, and add in there are large schools that take hurling more seriously.

‘That’s a key point. It’s not like for like, when you are measuring a Cork school against the Sem or against Tralee CBS because we don’t have areas of concentration where all your footballers are going to one school in a particular area,’ Cuthbert says.

‘When you look at inter-county panels you can see that there is a massive spread all over the county, the players who are all deemed to be the most talented are not all coming from one or two areas or one or two schools, so context is key.

‘You want to be competitive, absolutely, but I am not sure if there is a direct correlation between a couple of strong schools at Corn Uí Mhuiri level and a strong minor team.’

Cuthbert believes that there are three different structures that need to work together: schools, clubs and county. The Southern Star has spoken to a number of coaches in various secondary schools who have highlighted their concerns with schools’ football in the county, including a lack of meaningful games, dissatisfaction with the schools’ competition schedules and the inability to access players early in the school year as club competitions are still ongoing.

‘That indicates to me straight away that there needs to be better joined-up thinking between these three areas in terms of development squads, clubs and schools,’ says Cuthbert, who is proposing the creation of football hubs driven through schools in the various regions around the county.

‘What I would like to see happen is that particular schools would become hubs for clubs within particular regions so that you have absolute coordination within the region in terms of coach education, player development and competition,’ Cuthbert explains.

‘Think about it, what are we trying to do? We’re trying to develop good players for Cork at senior level in ten years’ time. We need to think about what it takes to make those players very good in ten years’ time. The school is a central tenant in that but at the moment what we are doing is we are all in clubs around particular schools, all these clubs have huge rivalry with each other and I would say very few clubs are in constant communication with the coaches at school level in terms of sharing all these players. 

‘I would say there is little communication between those players who are the best players and the development squads and the clubs and the schools – how often do the three triangulate? I’m not sure. But they are all dealing with the one player. 

‘I feel the way for Cork is to improve on that communication process between these three bodies – clubs, schools and county – and the way forward is to make the school the central hub where you have a classroom, the gym and a pitch, and all the satellite clubs around that school get player development, coach development and input from Cork GAA into that school. 

‘In time, that may entice boys to go to one school because it’s deemed to be the best school to become the best footballer and the best scholar, and all in one place rather than spread out like we currently have. Until that changes I don’t see us having a model that can challenge at Corn Uí Mhuiri level right now.’

Schools are the very essence of development, Cuthbert explains. They are places of education. Also, they are neutral and don’t threaten clubs. The selected schools could become the football hub in their region, and he envisages four or five hubs around the county. Take West Cork, as an example. Possibly Clonakilty Community College or Skibbereen Community School would be selected as the hub in the west – all coach education for local clubs is delivered in the school, likewise all strength and conditioning for selected players, and regionalised squad training would be delivered in the school, too.

‘For the context of Cork in terms of our geographical spread and in terms of the limitations that creates for many facets of player development, it needs to be a strength because you have the biggest county,’ the former Cork manager says. 

‘The only way schools’ football becomes a strength is if you can create these four or five hub schools around the county that are facilitate to become best in class and eventually, not only will they be giving all the hinterland clubs all the education and whatever else you need, the players make a decision to go there so it becomes much easier to access them and work with them.’

Knowing there will be barriers to overcome with this approach, Cuthbert adds: ‘It needs to be pushed from the Cork GAA perspective. I think the Cork County Board needs to decide this is something that they want to do. It has been mooted for a long time. That way forward is improvement in systems and structures, but if you are talking about schools’ football, making communication between club, school and county, and improving that by creating one of these pilot schools where you can get at real best-in-class development over a long period of time, like six years.

‘I think Cork have to be nuanced in their approach to developing players because bringing a player from Glengarriff up to Cork for training makes little sense when you are 16 or 17 years of age, and you have other activities to be doing, like academically, to develop as well. We have to be more clever around that.’

  • Tell us what you think? Should Cork GAA explore the idea of creating football hubs through schools in various regions in the county? Email [email protected]



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